Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Red-state moment

An overlooked benefit of the move among craft brewers toward cans: It is way more fun to wad up a can and toss it when finished, even if I have to pick it up later, than to place a bottle on the counter.

Crunching up a can and tossing it aside makes me feel American.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: Rio Grande Pancho Verde Chile Cerveza

And so we come to the clunker. I purchased a six-pack of this stuff in Farmington long ago. I drank one and it took me many months to try another for review purposes.

Pancho Verde Chile Cerveza is the creation of Rio Grande Brewing in Moriarty, N.M., a dot on the map next to the bustling crap-tropolis of Albuquerque.

Pancho Verde pours a pale yellow, reminiscent of industrial American lager. It sports a minimal head of white foam for a few seconds before dissolving into tepid yellowness.

Green chiles, a crop for which New Mexico is justly famous, come through in the aroma and flavor. Pancho Verde is extremely light-bodied. The green chiles lend an organic, vegetable taste followed by a gut-turning injection of green chile heat.

Give Rio Grande props for doing something unusual and reflective of its home region. That's all the praise I can must for this one: Without the green chile, I imagine Pancho Verde would taste something like PBR. It's so thin-bodied that there's nothing to the flavor but green chile, a seering heat that is out of balance and unpleasant. As one guy wrote on BeerAdvocate, "If a green chile could take a piss, this is what would be in the toilet." A vulgar but illustrative comment.

The craft-brewing revolution began more than 30 years ago. With market competition and learning brought by homebrewing, conferences and much cross-germination and sharing among brewers, it has become downright rare to find a craft beer that tastes truly bad. This is one. D

Friday, September 24, 2010

Durango's Oktoberfest this weekend

Downtown Durango will host its seventh annual Oktoberfest this weekend, Sept. 25-26.

The event will be held on three blocks of Main Avenue, from 900 to 1100 Main Ave.

On Saturday, Oktoberfest runs 11 a.m.-6 p.m. On Sunday, it'll be 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

All four Durango breweries are listed as cosponsors. The event raises funds for San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Durango-based environmental group.

Oktoberfest is free to enter. Food and beer can be purchased with wooden tokens. Dogs are prohibited, so leave the furry ones at home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Marble Red Ale

My planned series of New Mexico beer reviews collided headlong with a busy week in real life. But let's get on with it:

Marble Brewery is a bit of a jewel in the still-developing world of New Mexico craft brewing. Founded in 2008, it is based in Albuquerque but also has a substantial tap room on the plaza in Santa Fe.

I was first impressed by a Marble beer I had at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington, which was offering the Marble beer as a guest tap. I think it was an Old Ale, a deep, dark, boozy brew that stood out.

I didn't have another Marble beer until their folks showed up at Ska Brewing's 15th anniversay party. (A recap of that event is here). From the Wood,  a 9.2 percent ABV Scottish ale aged in oak barrels, had a delicious, full and well-rounded character, with hints of vanilla and oak.

So I couldn't help but pick up a six-pack of Marble Red Ale while at Trader Joe's in Santa Fe.

Marble Red is fairly burly at 6.5 percent ABV. It uses substantial caramel malt, which is more than balanced by the contributions of Crystal, Cascade and Simcoe hops.

It pours a dark amber, with a decent head of off-white foam. The smell has a bit of caramel and a ton of hops.

Marble Red is aggressively hopped - the spices wash over your tongue and dominate the taste. It's more like a cross between a red ale and an IPA than a typical red.

I particularly enjoy generously hopped reds. They carry a ton of flavor, but seem better balanced than some IPAs. If you ever find yourself in New Mexico, grab this beer. And hopefully, given Marble's impressive consistency, it won't be long before the young brewery distributes here. A-

Homebrewing Modus Hoperandi

The homebrewers among you might be interested in this gentleman's attempt to clone Ska Brewing Co.'s Modus Hoperandi IPA.

It doesn't surprise me that he wasn't entirely impressed by the result. Modus, which uses four different hop varieties, strikes me as a difficult beer to clone. The teeth-kicking hop flavor of that particular India Pale Ale is unique.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: Sante Fe State Pen Porter

Sante Fe is one of the most stunningly unique places in America. It's as if someone took bits of Mexico and Spain and plopped them down firmly in the American West, surrounded by desert and mountains.

Every place name is in Spanish. The street grates say "Don't dump - drains to arroyo." The adobe architecture pleases the eye, as do the imposing Catholic cathedrals and the world-class art. And the food. Oh, God, the food.

Santa Fe has been thoroughly "discovered." Between the small city of 70,000, nearby Taos and environs, everyone from Julia Roberts to Val Kilmer, the late Dennis Hopper and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has chosen to live there at least part-time.

Fortunately, the land of Georgia O'Keefe and Tony Hillerman also offers ample craft beer to explore.

Santa Fe Brewing Co. is the oldest brewery in New Mexico. It is also the New Mexico brewery whose products are easiest to find in Colorado.

To start at a strong point in this week's New Mexico beer series, let's consider the State Pen Porter. It's one of Santa Fe's year-round, flagship offerings, and is readily available in six-packs here and there.

It pours a deep, inky almost-black with an imposing tan head of foam. The foam, no matter how carefully poured, will impress.

At 6.4 percent ABV, State Pen is relatively strong for a porter, a centuries-old English style that is widely brewed in the U.S. (including by Ska, with its comparable Ten Pin Porter).

Let State Pen warm for a few minutes to let the malts express themselves. And boy, do they - a wash of chocolate malt, with a little nuttiness. Some tasters perceive a hint of smoke in State Pen Porter (named for the nearby prison); I don't.

The dominant sweet chocolate taste is followed by a second wave of hop bitterness. This one has Cluster, Cascade and Willamette hops, and they're substantial enough to balance the ample chocolate malt.

It would be difficult to find a better porter. From the pour to the aroma to the taste, State Pen is a pleasure every time.

Santa Fe's website calls State Pen a "trademark beer of the Santa Fe Brewing Company’s master brewer, Ty Levis." Fine work, Mr. Levis. A

(An aside: If you visit Santa Fe, don't bother with the brewery itself. I went two weekends ago. It's out of town along a highway, past strip malls and chain restaurants. Only four beers were on tap. In fact, Trader Joe's had a better selection of Santa Fe beers than the brewery itself. Furthermore, the restaurant was out of chicken when I visited, and that ruled out about half the menu. Just buy their beer in a store).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Steamworks mounts comeback at GABF

Steamworks Brewing Co. made a strong showing at last weekend's Great American Beer Festival in Denver, taking home three medals, including two golds, to lead Durango's breweries.

Steamworks' Backside Stout won gold in the Oatmeal Stout category (39 entries). What in the Helles? won gold in the Munich-style Helles category (42 entries). And the brewery's Colorado Kolsch, which is now being released in cans, took the silver medal in the German-style Kolsch category (46 entries).

For Steamworks, this represents an impressive comeback after getting skunked at the festival last year. The GABF is widely regarded as the most prestigious beer festival in the U.S., and brewers take a great deal of pride in winning medals in the blind tasting competitions.

For Southwest Colorado's other breweries, Ska Brewing Co. won the bronze medal for its Extra-Special ESB (you may recognize the red can) in the Classic English-style Pale Ale category (29 entries).

In nearby Pagosa Springs, the plucky little Pagosa Brewing Co. won silver in the specialty beer category (23 entries) with its Coconut Porter.

Durango Brewing Co. came home empty, ending its two-year streak of winning gold.

Medals vary a great deal from year to year. One year, a beer won't even place and the next year it will win gold. Still, you can't avoid being impressed by Steamworks' performance. Two golds and a silver is nothing to scoff at.

Colorado Kolsch (4.9 percent ABV, 17 IBUs) is a great summer beer, light but still flavorful. Backside Stout (6.2 percent ABV, 28 IBUs) makes for wonderful quaffing between runs when poured at Dante's or the base lodge at Purgatory.

"This is the first time the Backside Stout has been recognized at the GABF,” said Kris Oyler, Steamworks co-founder, in a news release. “It is one of our original brews, on tap since we opened in 1996. This recognition is long overdue.”

Oyler credited Steamworks brewers Ken Martin and Spencer Roper with the victories.

Congratulations to all the winners. Now start thinking up some recipes for 2011.

Appraising New Mexico craft beer

Durango is so close to New Mexico that in many ways we have a foot in each state.

The economic intercourse between southern Colorado and northern New Mexico is considerable. Driven by advertising markets, we get our TV from Albuquerque. Many of us occasionally shop across the border in Farmington, while tourism from New Mexico helps drive Durango's own economy.

When it comes to beer, Durango's packaging breweries find an obvious additional market in New Mexico. And while New Mexico's homegrown craft-beer scene is improving, it lags behind Colorado's by almost any measure - number of breweries, amount of production, medals won at the Great American Beer Festival.

Still, there is good beer to be found in the self-proclaimed "Land of Enchantment." This week, Beer at 6512 will be highlighting New Mexico craft beers - the impressive and the disappointing, those distributed in Colorado and some that you must find there.

I hope you enjoy it.

*Note to readers: The computer I use to transfer photos has crapped out, so this blog will be lacking in photographs for the immediate future.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A look back at Ska's Local Series

Ska Brewing Co. just released the 17th beer in its Local Series. The new release is the third go-round of Hoperation Ivy, a wet-hop IPA using freshly harvested hops from a farm near Montrose.

So I asked Dave Thibodeau, Ska's president and co-founder, to send me a list of all the brewery's Local Series releases. It makes for interesting perusing.

The Local Series gives Ska's talented brewers a chance to stretch their abilities and experiment with new styles with minimal risk on Ska's part.

The small-batch beers are always released in 22-ounce bomber bottles, mostly in and around Durango, costing about $5 a bottle. I like that it gives us local beer drinkers something new to try several times a year.

Below is the label art for Ska's first Local Series release, a Spiced Belgian-style Blonde Ale:

Here is the full list of Local Series releases:

17. Hoperation Ivy
16. Clancy's Black Beer
15. Saison Du'Rango
14. Oak-aged Orange Cream Stout
13. Hoperation Ivy
12. "Merlo" Stout
11. Hoperation Ivy
10. Puck's Potion
9. Double Chocolate Stout
8. Pilsner
7. Double Cream Ale
6. Strong Scotch Ale
5. Jay Tea
4. Watermelon Wheat
3. Pilsner
2. Double Chocolate Stout
1. Spiced Belgian-style Blonde Ale

The first Local Series beer I remember (having moved to Durango in the summer of 2005) was no. 3, a refreshing, flavorful pilsner. I recall drinking no. 4, the Watermelon Wheat, with some skepticism.

The Local Series seems to have gotten more dialed-in and consistently excellent in the last couple of years. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd go with no. 14, the Oak-aged Orange Cream Stout that brewer Thomas Larsen thought up when he was sick. It tasted great - a deep, creamy dark stout with a pleasant hint of orange peel.

I hope Ska keeps the Local Series going for years to come.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recipe for Ska double red

An alert reader noticed that the recipe for the beer I brewed last winter with Ska Brewing Co. in Durango has been reprinted by Brew Your Own, a homebrewing magazine.

If you're interested in how to brew a double red ale based on Ska's Pinstripe Red Ale, click over. I've posted the recipe on this blog before, but it's been organized in a more coherent fashion by Ska's Bill Graham. Scroll down to the recipe headed "Ska Brewing Company Kingpin Double Red."

I originally named it Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale, but I kind of like the name change.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Steamworks celebrates 14 years with specials

This week, Steamworks Brewing Co. is celebrating its 14th Anniversary with special discounts, a new pale ale and live music. The following is adapted from a Steamworks news release:

The brewpub will tap its new Colorado Proud Pale Ale, and welcome Colorado Kölsch in 12-ounce cans to the repertoire of beers available off-premise throughout the state of Colorado.

“It’s been an interesting 14 years,” said Kris Oyler, Steamworks co-founder. “And we’re coming out of a very challenging one, but given that our revenues this summer in the Durango brewpub have been the strongest in our history, and we’re seeing a renewal of our presence in Colorado, all is good.”

The Steam Team is especially pleased with its new, limited production Colorado Proud Pale Ale, to be tapped on Thurs., Sept. 16. Any product that endeavors to sport the Colorado Proud logo (a statewide effort that promotes restaurants and other producers who are “totally Colorado”) must include all-Colorado ingredients.

“We used 450 pounds of premium Colorado two-row barley and 150 pounds of red wheat malt from Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa,” said Brian McEachron, Steamworks co-founder. “The hops are organically grown and we harvested 50 lbs. ourselves from Thistle Whistle Farms in Hothckiss. The dominant varieties are Cascade and Centennial hops. Our yeast comes from Brewing Science Institute in Woodland Park, and the water is first-use water from the San Juans. Thus, this is an all-Colorado ingredient beer.”

Colorado Proud Pale Ale will, according to McEachron, emphasize hop flavor and aroma over bitterness. IBUs are in the 25-30 range and the ABV approximately 5.5 percent.

“The hop character should be floral with citrus notes,” said McEachron, noting the Colorado Proud will be available only at the Durango brewpub. “We’re targeting a highly drinkable Pale Ale.”

Since closing its Bayfield brewing operation earlier this year, Steamworks has been canning only its flagship beers for off-premise sales, including the popular Steam Engine Lager and Third Eye Pale Ale, both of which have been available for several years in 12-oz cans. Thanks to an increase in efficiencies at the Durango brewery, Steamworks is now canning the Colorado Kölsch.

“We’re focusing our off-premise marketing on Colorado,” said Oyler. “We’ve developed a strong following throughout the state and we’re pleased we’re still able to service those accounts with the Steam Engine Lager, Third Eye and now Kölsch in six-pack cans as well as kegs.”

“The Colorado Kölsch is our tip of our cowboy hats to the German Kölschs that surfaced early in the 1900s and peaked in popularity in the 1960s in Cologne, Germany,” added McEachron. “Steamworks’ Kölsch has won silver medals at both the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup.”

Steamworks 14th “Gold” Anniversary celebration will include special beer and food pairings throughout the week, as well as “retro-pricing” - $2.75 for all house craft pints. On Tuesday, Sept. 14, local bluegrass band Waiting on Trial will perform – no cover, with all house pints $1 throughout the day.

“Next year is no. 15, and we’re already planning a bigger celebration for September,” said McEachron. “For Steamworks, it always was and it still is, ‘full steam ahead.’”

Steamworks Brewing Co. is located at 801 East Second Ave. in Durango. Ph: (970) 259-9200.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hoppy beers dominate Brewfest

Brewers packed a block of downtown Main Avenue Saturday for the 12th annual San Juan Brewfest, Durango's premier annual beer get-together.

The event brought 25 breweries, mostly from Colorado. Local bands Baby Toro and the Lawn Chair Kings provided the soundtrack.

Beer festivals seem to be coming fast and furious lately; another one was held in Cortez the same day. They could all be considered a warm-up for the mother of all beer festivals, the Great American Beer Festival this weekend (Sept. 16-18) in Denver.

I took it easy at the Brewfest because I had plans later in the day, but I still got to sample the beers that appealed most.

I mostly kept it to hoppy pale ales and IPAs. The few dark beers just didn't appeal under the summer sun. Here's my brief impressions of the beers I tried:

1. Palisade S.O.B. Pale Ale. This little brewery brought an outstanding pale ale to the Brewfest; probably the best beer I tried. The bright, floral, citrusy hops led the way. Simply a great, well-rounded and inviting pale ale.

2. Palisade Dirty Hippie Dark Wheat. Compared to the earlier Palisade beer, this one seemed a little lackluster. It was dark, malty and full-bodied, with a hint of spice. It would probably make a good winter beer but seemed out of place here.

3. Colorado Boy Cask ESB. A delicous, flavorful offering from the little Ridgway brewpub. The cask conditioning favorably showed off the Extra Special Bitter's creamy, lingering, smooth hop bitterness. It again demonstrated the benefits cask conditioning can offer hoppy beers, as Carver's does every time it pours its Cascade Canyon Cask IPA.

4. Ska Hoperation Ivy. The latest Local Series from Durango's own Ska Brewing Co., Hoperation Ivy is an annual fresh-hop IPA. The just-harvested hops from a farm near Montrose lend an oily character to the bitter ale that can't be faked. Fresh-hop (also called wet-hop) beers are always distinctive and often excellent. People who care about conscientious and interesting brewing shouldn't miss this one.

5. Pagosa Pale Ale. This is a perpetual favorite of mine from Pagosa Brewing Co. It's dry-hopped twice with Cascades, and the hops just pop on the tongue. The grassy flavor and lingering bitterness make this a showcase pale ale.

Miscellany: The Brewfest is a blessing in offering beers from around the state usually unavailable in Durango. Furthermore, it benefits a good cause in the United Way of Southwest Colorado (I should mention by way of disclosure that I was admitted to the Brewfest for free to blog about the event).

However, good events can always improve. My suggestions:

1. More food. Some brats were on hand, but that was about it. Perhaps next year, the organizers could extend invitations to a few restaurants so festival-goers who are queasy about eating brats have some other options.

2. Tim Walsworth, the United Way director who organizes the festival, is a magnanimous man who is familiar with my complaint about the glassware. It's no doubt cheaper, and safer, and with fewer headaches, to offer a small plastic sample "mug" than a real pint glass. It's an understandable move.

Still, I would prefer a nice pint glass, which was offered at the Brewfest years ago, for the following reasons: a). A pint glass makes a much better keepsake. Cool pint glasses like the one Ska made for its recent 15th Anniversary party make sweet collectibles. b). Aesthetically, it's much nicer to hold a hefty pint glass than a little plastic thing. c). The plastic mugs aren't adequate to the demands of foamy beer. It's a pain to have to wait for beers to settle in the little vessel. d). Glass indicates a presumption that your customers are responsible adults, rather than potential trouble-makers. That sort of trust goes a long way.

But those complaints are minor. The Brewfest is a fun event, put on for charity, that offers some great beer. I look forward to the lucky 13th year.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On "33 Bottles of Beer"

A Portland, Ore., entrepreneur by the name of Dave Selden, in the mistaken impression that Beer at 6512 is an influential tastemaker, has sent me a sample of his product, a well put-together notebook intended for beer reviews.

In a moment of weakness that I blame on guilt stemming from my Midwestern, Protestant heritage, I'll give the guy the publicity he is so baldly seeking.

33 Bottles of Beer is a small notebook, slightly larger than a deck of cards. Each page contains fill-in spaces for the fundamental aspects of a beer review: ABV, IBU, beer name, brewer, etc. A flavor wheel allows the user to rate a beer's various aspects such as "malty," "sour," "hoppy," etc.

The notebooks cost $4 each or three for $10 from the official website.

33 Bottles of Beer is a nifty little tool for beer reviewers. I see it being most helpful for people who write frequent but short reviews for sites such as BeerAdvocate.

My only criticism is that it seems likely to encourage the ongoing standardization and formulization of beer reviews. Sites like BA have their place, but I hope there remains a space for us writerly types to go a little deeper in beer reviews. A hundred words might not be enough for every beer review; neither do I like to adhere by rigid categories like appearance, smell and taste. I might want to spend 100 words on the origin and character of the yeast alone.

In any case, Selden clearly has a handle on what constitutes a basic beer review, and 33 Bottles of Beer could be a useful tool for those who like to pound out brief appraisals.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

San Juan Brewfest set for Saturday

Durango's own beer festival, the San Juan Brewfest, is set for Sat., Sept. 11.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort’s 12th annual San Juan Brewfest will be held at 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in downtown Durango on Main Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets.

The event boasts 25 breweries this year, up from about 20 last year, said Tim Walsworth, president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado. A full list and event information is at This event benefits United Way of Southwest Colorado.

General admission tickets are $20. They include entry to the event from 1 to 6 p.m. and souvenir tasting mug (5 oz mugs that we have used in past years). New this year is a VIP ticket. It sells for $40 and includes:

- Invitation to brewer’s only party at Ska Friday night (Sept. 10) from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
- Entry to Brewfest on Saturday one hour early at noon
- Reserved area at Brewfest with shade, tables, chairs, and food

Tickets will be available at the gate (cash, local check, credit card hopefully) or online now at ID will be required at entrance.

Baby Toro and the Lawn Chair Kings will provide live entertainment. Food will be available from three different vendors. And the event will have an oxygen bar too.

All proceeds benefit United Way and stay local in La Plata County, Walsworth said.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Steamworks donates $3,500 to college scholarship

Steamworks Brewing Co. has donated more than $3,500 to the Mark Witkes Memorial Scholarship at Fort Lewis College, the brewery announced in a news release.

The funds were raised by the 2010 Steamworks-Animas Valley Half Marathon, held June 19.

The Marc Witkes Memorial Scholarship is presented annually to a Four Corners-area cross-country runner attending Fort Lewis College. Witkes, an avid runner and former president of Durango Motorless Transit, died in 2006 as he approached the finish line at the Tucson Marathon.

The annual Steamworks-Animas Valley Half Marathon is a partnership of Steamworks Durango Motorless Transit and the Durango Sports Club. The 2010 event sold out early, drawing 300 runners.

“It was a beautiful day, a full field that sold out early, and so successful over all that we were able to contribute more than $1,000 more than we did in 2009 to the scholarship,” said Kris Oyler, Steamworks co-founder. “At Steamworks, we’re proud to continue this tradition and help support a collegiate distance runner in honor of Marc.”

Added race director Kristin Spiegel, “This running event has turned into one of the most popular in Durango. It keeps getting better. We expect the 2011 event to once again sell out early, and we’re pleased to be able to sustain Marc’s memory with such a positive event.”

I'm not much of a runner, but my girlfriend is, and she thoroughly enjoyed the half-marathon. There were aid stations every couple of miles to keep the runners fed and healthy, and Steamworks beer was poured at the finish.